One More Time – Getting to One-Piece Flow Not as easy as it sounds – but easier with a culture-change
Here’s a question that has come up since the last issue – and it’s not unique. It came from a team frustrated with “not being able to get to ‘real One-Piece’ flow”! They had tried repeatedly, but kept getting turned off – largely because of management pressure.
They were currently considering a ‘batch’ of 20 assemblies to be their ‘one piece’ flow - which they had used for two years and their thinking had ‘frozen’ around that configuration. But they wanted to move toward an actual single-assembly-at-a-time, or one-piece flow, but kept running into trouble when they dropped below their 20 assemblies number.
They presented their problem to Winnipeg’s Lean Conference’s keynoter, Bob Kerr, who began by reminding them that achieving what they were looking for usually requires “an evolutionary change in thinking”.He suggested they begin by taking 5 assemblies away – and make the remaining 15 their ‘new one-piece flow.’
“Don’t even think about getting to one piece – just focus on the 15 – and keep improving the flow to make it easier and simpler for you.” As he kept nudging them they gradually began to see ways to handle the smaller number more quickly as they made small alterations in the flow. As things became simpler, ways of combining process steps began to be visible to the team – as they began to think more innovatively.
Bob’s next step was to take another 5 assemblies away and charged them to, “never think about anything but 10 assemblies in their new flow.” By now they were seeing patterns they never saw before. Patterns that had been totally invisible when their mindset was frozen on 40 became obvious. The work attitude was more positive and infused with a new enthusiasm about the possibility of achieving ‘one-piece’ flow. Some could see it actually coming into view and helped their colleagues to see it, too.
Canada’s new F-35’s built using one-piece flow manufacturing
Lessons Learned: Remove the pressure of trying to manage too many things! Give people a vision they can see – but be sure to give them time to understand how the process actually changes as fewer quantities and continuous adjustments are made. As Bob puts it, “It’s critical for the process owners to sense the rhythm and feel of the process without their minds being clutteredby intimidating numbers.
What makes the difference? Management! What’s required is a shift in management’s thinking to one of becoming a servant leader - who coaches by ensuring those doing the work are in control of the process. Bob stresses to managers to never forget ‘to coach-by-asking-questions’ to deliberately lead folks to find the solutions themselves. When this happens, they will then believe they discovered the improvement – and that motivation will inspire yet more achievement. And when they get to one-piece flow – they will own it. To the team’s leader, Bob added, with a Scottish chuckle, “As their coach you are now eligible to enter the Order of Ego-less Leaders Managers, as you are surely becoming a Servant Leader!”
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